Farmington River Report 6/17/21: Wet Fly Wizardry

I guided Joe yesterday, and while it wasn’t a textbook wet fly day, we experienced some tremendous action (I lost count of how many trout we hooked and landed). Joe is an experienced angler who has dabbled in wet flies, but wanted some serious instruction in the ancient and traditional subsurface art. We fished from 2:15-6:15pm, and visited two marks, one within the Permanent TMA and one below it, 385cfs and 465cfs respectively. It was a strange kind of wet fly day in that there was no voluminous hatch, nor were there frequent, consistent risers to target. Nonetheless, Joe slayed ’em. This speaks not only to Joe’s abilities, but also to the efficiency of the wet fly. It may not look like anything is going on, but there can indeed be mischief afoot underwater. Joe fished a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger top dropper, Light Cahill winged middle dropper, and Hackled March Brown on point. All three flies took trout, a mix of rainbows and wild browns. Several of the rainbows we landed had bird wounds — watch out, trout! A great job by Joe and a fun afternoon of fishing and catching.

After our session, I headed north to catch the “evening rise.” The quotes are sarcastic, as the hatch never materialized. Oh, sure, there were a few caddis and suplhurs and some huge creamy duns, but they were few and far between. The river never got to boiling — the best it could muster was a brief simmer around 8:45pm. I had several swings and misses (I was fishing dry fly) and only stuck two trout. A disappointing performance by Mother Nature, but there are worse ways to spend two hours than standing in a river, waving a stick, and enjoying a fine cigar.

This was the scene for much of the afternoon. I told Joe he was going to become a dangerous wet fly machine, and here’s your proof.

The shortest distance between two anglers is a hello

This has been happening more and more: I’m fishing near people, and later in the parking lot they come up to me and introduce themselves. That’s great, because I love meeting currentseams readers. But invariably they tell me that they didn’t say hello on the water because they didn’t want to “bother” me (the air quotes are mine). Folks, you’re not bothering me. Please introduce yourself.

Sure, if I’m guiding a client, I probably can’t have an extended conversation with you; that would be unfair to my client, who deserves my full attention. But it’s no secret that places like the Farmington River are more crowded than ever. Space in prime fishing marks is often scarce. So instead of me looking at you as a potential hostile invader — and vice versa — wouldn’t it be better if we could share the water without angst? Come say hello. If you’re looking for a place to fish, ask if there’s room. (Maybe if I get there after you, I’ll ask you!) If there is, we’ll make it work. If there isn’t, there’s always next time. And at the very least we now have faces and names connected. That’s a win for everyone.

Speaking of sharing water, I want to thank everyone I’ve encountered this season who has been so darned friendly and accommodating about doing so. I typically expect the worst from people, so it is a delight to be proven wrong about human nature. Kindness from strangers is a blessing. May the river gods bestow the tightest of lines upon all of you!

These gentlemen came all the way from Spain (really) to say hello.

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Farmington River Report 6/2/21: Hard wet fly times

I guided Larry yesterday and we fished from 2pm-6pm within the Permanent TMA. The river was a very manageable 500cfs, with good water clarity. Angler traffic was light, so we had our pick of pools. Unfortunately, hatch activity — and especially feeding activity near the surface — was also light, and we struggled to find fish that were willing to jump on. We fished three different marks and managed only one hookup. So I had to give Larry the speech that I hate to give. It goes something like this: “You’re not doing anything wrong. Those are fish-worthy drifts. If you do these same things on another day, you will be a wet-fly fishing catching machine.” Kudos to Larry for sticking with it and maintaining a positive attitude! I’m looking forward to getting that email from him where he tells me he hit it right and it all came together. It’s going to happen.

After our session, I ventured upriver to inspect the evening rise. It was a slow wet fly experience there as well (that should make you feel better, Larry!) as I could only manage one trout from 6:30-7:30pm. Hatch activity was solid, with midges, small caddis, and sulphurs, but again the surface activity was not where I would have liked it to be. I switched to dry flies at 7:30 and fooled fish on a mix of Magic Flies, Usuals, and Light Cahill Catskills dries. My two best fish came very late in the game during the spinner fall, both on the Light Cahill, both chunky mid-teens wild browns. A fine finish to a challenging day.

There comes a point in the battle where I wonder, “Is this one of those fat stocked rainbows, or a big wild brown?” No disrespect to the rainbows, but I am highly pleased when the answer is the second choice. Here’s the last fish of the evening. I saw him sipping spinners in some frog water along the opposite shore. Both of these last two browns were hefty, spirited, and refused to come quietly to net. You know you’ve got a decent fish when it sounds and heads for the deepest part of the run. See you soon, fellas.

Farmington River Report 5/24/21: finding fish with wet flies

I guided Eric yesterday and we had a mix of sun and clouds and moderate, cold flows (380cfs in the Permanent TMA and 445cfs on the lower River). We fished two marks with mixed success. At the first, there was very little hatch activity and we observed no fish rising. One bump was the best we could do, so we decided to seek our pleasure elsewhere.

And that’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give you if you want, like Eric, to learn how to fish wet flies: if one spot isn’t producing, find one that is. And, once you get there, work the water. Cover as much of it as you can. Determine where you think the trout will be holding and feeding. We fished a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger on point, a dark soft-hackle of Eric’s creation in the middle, and a BHSHPT on point. All of our action came on the point fly. Eric did a great job of navigating some not-that-easy-to-wade water (sometimes it pays to get into those more difficult areas). While the second mark was not as productive as I’d hoped — the caddis hatch was disappointing, and there were no regular, active feeders — Eric managed to stick four nice trout.

The answer to the question, “Why is this man smiling?” can be seen in the foreground. Great job, Eric! You’re on your way.

Farmington River Report 5/17 & 5/18/21: Caddis, Cold Water & Red Hot Wet Fly Action

Mark contacted me over the winter about learning the ways of the wet fly. He booked two half day sessions, a brilliant move on his part, as we experienced a mixed bag of weather and catching on the first day, and then the Farmington River at its finest today. We fished both days from 11am-3pm. Water was 425cfs in the Permanent TMA, and 600cfs below it. The water is a little colder than usual, due to not only the weather but also the greater percentage influx of water from the dam. Caddis is king right now, and we saw good numbers both days, particularly today. Midges, too, and some tiny olives on Monday, par for the damp day course.

Monday 5/17: We started out with brilliant sunshine, then got poured on. Our first mark had the dreaded guide-catches-on-the-demo-cast (I’d rather the client do that), but we eventually connected with a couple fish, though none of them made it to the hoop. There was a decent amount of bug activity, but little in the way of consistent risers.

We had our first taste of success at Spot #2 with a gorgeous little wild brown. I never get tired of these jewels, or the way they attack a wet fly with primal fury.

Thunder eventually drove us off the water. Rather than wait it out, we solved the problem by driving miles away from it. We finished up below the Permanent TMA, and this set the stage for Tuesday. We found some trout that were willing to eat, and even though the numbers were not what I expected, the day absolutely qualified as a good one. Mark was a solid caster, a dedicated student, and best of all, a strong wader. That meant we could get into some areas that many anglers would find a challenge to navigate.

This is how we do it. One of the biggest challenges a new wet fly fisher faces is how to let the trout do the hook-setting work. After dropping a few fish Monday, Mark began to figure it out. By the time we finished up on Tuesday, he was sticking every trout. Awesome job, Mark! I spent Monday night ruminating where we should fish Tuesday, and decided that on…

Tuesday 5/18, we would pick up at the same mark where we left off Monday. I wanted to see if the warmer air temps and sunshine would kickstart the hatches –and the trout — and that’s exactly what happened. Caddis, caddis, everywhere, size 12-14 — and then huge swarms of micro caddis. We didn’t fret about those, since the trout were more than eager to jump on the bigger flies. We took them on Squirrel and Gingers (top dropper), Starling and Herl (middle dropper), and generic bead head gray soft hackles on point. We took them on the dead drift, the mended swing, the dangle, and with upstream presentations. I lost track of how many trout, which is always a good day on the river. On Monday, I had kept telling Mark, “You’re doing everything right. You just need to find some cooperative trout.” I’ve made that speech to numerous clients, so it was gratifying to be there when the cooperative trout showed up. We played through the run, then walked 500 yards upstream where Mark — now a dangerous wet fly machine — connected with a spunky rainbow. Great job, Mark!

Mark’s best fish of the trip was this mid-teens wild brown that we witnessed repeatedly slashing at caddis in a feeding lane. Or, as Mark said: See the fish. Present to the fish. Catch the fish. He did just that, and his instructor couldn’t have been prouder. A Squirrel and Ginger did the trick.

Farmington River Report 5/4/21: North, Miss Teschmacher

I guided Andrew and Brett yesterday and they wanted to focus on wet flies. Monday’s rain was more than I expected, and I didn’t like the height or the color of the Permanent TMA. So we headed north to the friendly confines of WBATSR (West Branch Above The Still River. I just made that up.) This was a good call as the water was running a crystal clear and very wadeable 200cfs. I really liked that height, and I thought there were dozens, if not hundreds of pockets and seams and slots and riffles that would hold trout. Sadly, the trout didn’t get the memo, and we had a very slow day. (We didn’t see any angler other than our group hook and land a fish.) It was the kind of day where I find the next great piece of water, and think to myself, “this is going to be it,” and then nothing happens. These episodes make me throw up my hands and say, “I quit.” Of course, I don’t really mean it, and of course we don’t quit, but I get frustrated just like everyone else.

Andrew had fished with me before, and on that day we had far more active fish than today. Brett is a relative newcomer to fly fishing, and once we smoothed out a few wrinkles he was swinging like a pro. I alternated between both anglers, and we worked downstream, covering several hundred yards of water. Bug activity was very light, with two confirmed Hendricksons and a handful of BWOs, but that was it. As you can imagine, angler traffic was heavy, especially with that section of river the only clear water game in town. With today’s rain and increased flows, I would guess that streamers and nymphing will be, by far, the most productive methods for a few days.

Andrew doing battle with a chunky rainbow. He scored two trout, both on the bead head soft hackle I had tied on in the point position. In my experience, wet fly can be challenging in high flows, so I’d wait for the water to get down to 500 or less before swinging. Great job, Brett and Andrew, for persevering though some tough fishing conditions!

Farmington River Report 4/9/21: Nature (quickly) finds a way

Just a quick two-hour session on the lower River last Friday. The sun was shining, the air was warm, the water was low and crystal clear, and there was a strong caddis (size 16-18) hatch. I fished three marks and found acton in only one. I purposely stayed away from areas that I knew had been stocked as I wanted to try to find the Salmo that had made it through the winter. I tried several techniques, each to match the conditions and marks I was fishing: tight/long line micro jig streamer, tight line drop shot nymphing, and then indicator nymphing.

Funny thing! I had just landed my first fish, a tiger of a wild brown, when lo and behold, Ye Olde Stocking Truck showed up. What I found fascinating — and I’ve witnessed this before — was that within minutes, the fresh fish were porpoising and snapping at caddis emergers in a back eddy. It doesn’t take long for them to discover where their next meal is coming from. It’s genetic programming at its finest.

Love these holdover/wild fish. They just refuse to come to net without a furious argument. This guy fought way above his weight class.

Tip of the Week: Target water near shelf ice when you’re winter streamer fishing

Shelf ice can be a problem when you’re out on a river — NEVER walk across shelf ice — but it can also be a difference maker when it comes to catching, especially on a river like the Farmington. The Farmington River has hatches of W/S (Winter/Summer) caddis. These bugs emerge, then scoot across the surface of the water towards the shore to mate. Trout know this — not in a cognitive sense, but rather in a programmed-by-nature way. If the water is deep enough, and there’s enough current, you can often find Farmington River trout hanging out near bankside structure in winter, especially ice shelves.

That makes these areas a priority target when I’m winter streamer fishing. If I find an ice shelf over deeper, moving water, I like to pound that water with my bugs. Sometimes I’ll even land the streamer onto the ice shelf, then gently pull it off into the water. The trout will tell you if they want the presentation to be a dead drift, slow retrieve, fast(er) retrieve, or swing.

You can’t really see it in this video, but I’m actually landing my streamer on top of an ice shelf that extends several feet off the bank. On this day, the only hits I had came from using this tactic.

Farmington River Report 1/14/21: Jiggin’ and Strippin’ and Catchin’

Yesterday I fished with Toby Lapinski, a long overdue payback for all the striper outings he treated me to this fall. We decided to go for big instead of numbers, so streamers it was. We started in the Permanent TMA, although we first bounced around looking for a mark that didn’t have the equivalent angler population of Manhattan. (Hint: stay away from the big name pools.) Conditions were perfect for winter streamers: 325cfs, clear, no slush ice, 40 degree air temp and overcast with occasional mists and drizzle.

Rule one of winter streamer fishing: find the fish that want to eat. We decided to mix it up at the first mark. I was long-leader-tight line small black jig streamer in faster water; Toby was traditional fly line with a white jig streamer in slower, deeper stuff. I blanked, but Toby scored a big, bad brown. You can’t see it in the photo, but that’s just over 20″ of trutta buttah. Awesome trout. Observed: a modest midge hatch and trout rising to them in the frog water. We started with the place all to ourselves; by the time we left, there were five other anglers.

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Although anglers were seemingly everywhere, we had the second mark all to ourselves. Oh. This guy was there, too. He was hanging out in some faster water and hit on the drop as the streamer was jigged downstream. I missed him on that first take, but fortunately I didn’t deviate from the presentation, and he came right back and struck on the drop again. Here’s to second chances! Great photo by Toby. I had one more hit on the jig, then I switched over to a traditional streamer winter streamer setup: full sink tip line and short leader with a weighted fly (Coffey Sparkle Minnow).

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Winter fishing requires attention to detail. If you’re not ready, you might miss it. Here’s a hawk-eyed Toby focusing on his sighter. I had one little bump on the Sparkle Minnow, then we moved to the third mark. Only one angler there, but he left after 5 minutes and again we had a long section of river all to ourselves. I managed a fine 13″ wild brown and then we called it a (victorious) day. We fished from 11:30am-4:00pm, and I was grateful for the time spent on the water, the action, and the good company.

Props to a keen student of wet fly fishing

Don took a wet fly lesson with me in July, and while the bugs and trout weren’t very cooperative, we still had enough action to make things interesting. I always tell my students that if they keep on with this wet fly thing, good things will follow. Don has been in touch since then, asking questions, practicing and tying, and most importantly, spending time with a team of three on the water. That’s how you become a better wet fly angler.

In my report from that day, I stated that if Don learned wet flies, he would become a dangerous fish-catching machine. Although conditions have been challenging in the last couple months, Don has kept at it. Last week he scored this gorgeous brown on a Squirrel and Ginger. I think it’s a Survivor Strain broodstock — that looks like a left-eye elastomer and clipped adipose. Way to go, Don!